You're reading the words of a convert. Before now. my experience of Paris odd days passing through to some other destination had revealed little of the supposed romance and chic atmosphere that legend insists on. Doing the high- speed tourist bit had uncovered nothing more than a noisy metropolis with an outsized Blackpool Tower stuck in the middle; like being in London only with even less chance of being understood. But this time still spending no more than a long weekend something clicked. Perhaps it was that I avoided the Eiffel Tower. or perhaps it was that having that little extra time allowed me to saunter down the boulevards. wander into alleyways and linger in the cafe's. all those things you're supposed to do



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la Grand Arche: so imposing that it you didn’t know better you’d call it the ultimate example of fascist architecture.

Mark Fisher enjoys the extremes of scale that a long weekend in the French capital can present.

in Paris ifonly you can slip into a properly Parisian frame of mind. Away from the tourist traps. and not even that far away. Paris is a village that never grew up. Young motorcyclists drive noisily and ostentatioust like they were the main attraction in some sleepy small town. People greet each other in the street with a familiar handshake or kiss on the cheek. None of your big city alienation here. but a major capital whose residents have managed to hold on to a human sense of proportion. Taken at a leisurely pace. Paris is a browser‘s paradise. The larger boulevards shelter courtyards and alleyways. quiet and serene with rural charm. where you might find a gallery. a cafe or an ancient Roman square tucked away. I came across the Mus ‘e Kwok-On in just such a way. This small two-room museum off a side street somewhere north of the Seine. displays masks. puppets and costumes. beautifully crafted in reds and golds. from throughout Asia. drawing on great religious epics like The Mahabharata


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volume will set you in the direction of hotel rooms as cheap as £10 a night which. if you‘re prepared to sacrifice a few home comforts. could save you the price of the book in the first two nights.

(Chloe Obelenski's designs for Peter Brook's production of the satne are on display) and featuring everything from half-animal. half-human heads from Sri Lanka to a glittering altar made of lace- like silver from Calcutta. Taking time to seek out such treasures. as well as the obvious crowd-pullers like the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre. pays off.

You can't talk about France without talking about food and. even as a vegetarian. that tnuch misunderstood breed in a country of carnivores. I needed little persuasion to fall into the pattern of eating long. substantial midday tneals. something which inevitably sets the pace for the rest of the day. For a nation that values its food and enjoys its social life. there is no stigma about eating or drinking alone as l was for either men or women; you‘re just left to get on with it in peace. unhurried and unpressured. Like many European cities. Paris has been resistant to the rise of the superstore. and it's still possible to find homely wee hideaways such as Restaurant Vegetarien Lacour (3 rue Villedo). the size of someone‘s front room. in which the various lunchtime customers squeeze around all of six tables for their broths and vegetable bakes.

The explanation for so many small- scale businesses to proliferate could lie at La I)éfense. The reason that the rest of Paris feels like a village is that all the grown-up buildings are here. Everything is so out of proportion that

the information centre has to have a whole series of scale models on display to begin to put it all into perspective. Huge Miro sculptures. their primary colours balancing on sea-saw structures. are dwarfed by La Grande Arche de La I)éfense. a l lZ-metre hollow cube positioned in direct line with the Avenue des Champs Elysées and the Louvre. so imposing that if you didn‘t know better you‘d call it the ultimate example of fascist architecture. In fact. the whole area is so inhumanly big that the various sculptures dotted about the site seem to be its true natural inhabitants. Many of the buildings around the arch. home to a government ministry and major international businesses. have risen to its challenge: the concertina-like curve of the World Trade Centre. enormous eliptical sky- scrapers that seem to disappear from some angles. even the steps up to the arch. sweeping like a blanket across its width. are an amazing sight. The shock that the liiffel Tower tnust once have provided before it became a picture postcard cliche. is ably re-created here. To take you back down to earth. get down to the Left Bank of the Seine where it‘s heartening to see them still selling the same books - Marx. Sartre and ()Os porno mags —- from the same wooden shacks that they did in the days when they used to make arty black and white films about it. Mark Fisherflew to Paris with the kind assistanee ()fC'UItl/NLS' 'I‘rave/ (telephone bookings on 0} l 668 3303 ).


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The List 26 March-8 April I993 77